UK 'Snooper's Charter' Surveillance Bill Becomes Law

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A controversial UK surveillance bill has become law, despite efforts to stop it.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 today received the final stamp of approval from the Queen—a practice called Royal Assent. It requires telecom firms to store customers' Internet Connection Records for 12 months. These records include top-level domains you visited, but not sub-pages (so it would show pcmag.com but not pcmag.com/apple or pcmag.com/android, for example).

This data would be accessible by law enforcement and intelligence agencies provided they secure the necessary warrants and judicial approvals, and be used to "disrupt terrorist attacks and prosecute suspects, according to the UK Home Office.

"The Internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge," Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in a statement. "But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."

That oversight includes an Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee the program, and protections for journalistic and legally privileged material, as well as tough sanctions for those abusing their power.

Security advocates, however, still have concerns about the law, which has been dubbed the "Snooper's Charter."

As Big Brother Watch notes, for example, a 2000 version of the bill provided 28 government organizations access to communications data. "Under the new Investigatory Powers Bill, this has now been extended to 48 organizations which now also have the power to snoop on citizen's browsing histories."

It also "extends the level of access police and intelligence agencies have to citizen's communications data and allows them to collect information on people's phone calls, text messages and social media conversations upon request," the group says.

A petition calling for an end to the Investigatory Powers Act launched earlier this year and has secured more than 138,000 digital signatures. Since it got more than 100,000 signatures, the issue will get debated in Parliament, but that occured after the bill had passed through its parliamentary stage, so the debate shouldn't result in any major changes.

"This government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe," Rudd said.

Some provisions in the bill require testing and will not be set into motion "for some time," according to the Home Office. All other mandates—like Internet Connection Records—are moving forward as the new law replaces 2014's Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which sunsets on Dec. 31.

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